- Preparation 1 — What to Do When We’re Not Prepared
- Preparation 2 — Learning to Decline When We Can’t Deliver or Delay
- Preparation 3 — Delaying When We Can’t Decline or Deliver
- Preparation 4 — Preparation Defined
- Preparation 5 — What Being Unprepared Looks Like
- Preparation 6 — Being Over-Prepared
- Preparation 7 — We Can and Do Prepare Poorly
- Preparation 8 — Thinking Forward vs Thinking Backward
- Preparation 9 — Our Beliefs about Our Preparation Are Part of Our Preparation
- Preparation 10 — There’s a Rhetoric to Preparation
- Preparation 11 — The Best Preparation Is Staying in Practice
- Preparation 12 — The Big Picture of Preparation
Table of Contents
The Rhetoric of Preparation
We cannot rightly or fully prepare for anything requiring Rhetoric if we don’t understand and apply the Rhetoric of the mediums we are using — both in our final performance, and in their use in the act of preparation itself.
Rhetoric is afoot in the process of preparation just as much as it gives us our marching orders in the act of delivering. Without knowing and being able to apply Rhetoric in our efforts to prepare, we usually spend ample amounts of time preparing by continually shooting ourselves in the foot, piling unnecessary burdens on our backs, and neglecting the bigger Rhetorical picture within which our best efforts to prepare can be strategically made. Then we get out in front of the wrong folks that didn’t want to hear us in the first place, tumbling over all too easily without solid footing to hold us upright, fall flat on our faces under the weight of our well-meaning efforts, and when we look up, we find not a single friendly face looking back at us to care.
It isn’t a wonder why so many of us avoid engaging with others for fear of crying. It’s scary, particularly if we’re not in practice, much like how we’d feel if we found ourselves on a football field being passed the ball without knowing what to do with it, or the rules at play.
We Affect Ourselves and Others During and Through Preparation
Most of what we do when we prepare is cultivate ourselves to be better equipped to deliver, and we use Rhetoric to do this in the same way we use Rhetoric to affect an audience. Done well, we do well to affect our audience in advance of any engagement by doing things like cultivating meaningful relationships with them and removing friction from them thinking, acting, or being motivated to any desired ends. In preparing, however, that very same transformative process is turned back in on ourselves. We change our own thoughts, actions, and motivations to desired ends, which in Rhetorical preparation, isn’t as different from affecting an audience as we might initially assume. It’s easier to view preparation as a Rhetorical ‘thing’ when viewed in that way, and has the benefit of allowing us to leverage the same Rhetorical skills we use when we deliver in any of various forms on ourselves and anyone else on our team that’s involved in preparing.
One of the senses we use the word ‘Rhetoric’ in is to denote the understanding and application of various mediums, methods, and modes of acting to affect one another. Informing, persuading, and motivating ourselves and others are popular avenues for that, but by no means the only ones — despite acting as useful categories to lump in the rest of what we can do with Rhetoric to more coherently discuss them. Being able to speak well and to desired ends consistently and by intention requires knowledge and skill in ‘the Rhetoric of public speaking’ in that way. Being able to paint well and masterfully to both realize what we intend to paint, as well as explore what can be painted in ways that deeply impact ourselves as well as others requires a thorough understanding and application of ‘the Rhetoric of painting’. And in the same vein, being able to prepare well and cultivate desired ends when we either perform or finish whatever Rhetorical product we are working on is a product of applying skilled expertise in ‘the Rhetoric of preparation’.
The Rhetoric of preparation is unique in that as a Rhetorical situation, it’s relatively ‘meta’ compared to the more common ones we’re used to considering by Rhetoric or any other name that rely on a single medium and clearer audiences. Though we do various things to affect ourselves all the time — such as journaling, therapeutic exercises, compiling research and the like — it isn’t often that we undertake them with the intention of that going on, leading us to neglect that aspect of preparation because we don’t appreciate it as existing, despite it being one of the larger points of it. Our first reaction to seeing someone talk to themselves would likely be a subtle acknowledgment that they’re crazy, but we have conversations with ourselves in many of various forms all the time, their intent of the same sort we have when conversing with others, only differing in our standing in for the roles of both self and other.
We may end up speaking, writing, reading, drawing, sketching, and at times dancing and singing in service to preparing –alone or with others, before or during an intended performance our preparation is meant to create. The Rhetoric of preparation consists of orchestrating many things like that together in the most efficient and effective way we can to cultivate the ability everyone involved to achieve whatever results we’re after, in concert with all else Rhetorical that is going on, and ending in ways that are themselves Rhetorical products and performances in an endless symphony of human engagement.
Preparation is as much of a Rhetorical performance as anything we go on to do with it. Accordingly, how that performance is composed has a governing affect on its results.
We Construct Products as Well as Performances
We don’t think about it often in the more ephemeral Rhetorical mediums like public speaking, but the way a product or performance is constructed determines how it functions. It’s easy to neglect how that happens because public speaking seems like we’re ‘thinking out loud’ — which at its best, it is1 — but both the content of what’s said, as well as how we go about saying it, is built from everything we’ve done before opening our mouths, interacting with everything and everyone in the moment as air begins coming out. Speeches spawned by years of experience, study, and lecturing on the topic aren’t full of sound and fury while signifying nothing. Plays playing out from actors and actresses working from a script are of a very different character than those which are improvised in whole or in part. And as we veer from performances into products, books and articles backed by a vast array of research, note-taking, and dialog don’t read the same as those that are closer to a brain fart delivered before a deadline without an editor.
How constructing something works is easier to appreciate in more visual pursuits like architecture, the component processes of it being distinct and tangible, usually amounting to a profession. When we construct anything, we make it out of other things, often constructing things that themselves act as aides and guides to constructing finished works as the process goes further, at times being disposable to the fulfillment of that end. When building a bridge, for example, piles of project plans and schematic designs are drawn up — updated and iterated in dialog with everyone involved in funding and supporting the bridge — before any physical building begins. Once construction is underway in a more physical sense, we set up the most efficient scaffolding we can put together in terms keeping costs low and ease of use high, materials are brought in at times from all over the world that will become the bridge itself, marks and measures are made, equipment like cranes and jackhammers arrive, outside contractors and consultants manning and guiding it all, and the bridge goes into a period of ‘structural incubation’ while it’s being birthed from that messy, pulsating mound of social effort. Then, after a great deal of time, toil, and teamwork under pleasant or adverse conditions, all of those elements crucial to construction are rendered extraneous once execution is complete, they’re removed to allow the bridge to stand and function on its own, and it’s time for the bridge to ‘perform’. Every brick laid, support beam hung, and piece of metal welded determines how well the bridge will hold up, and whether it leads us in the right direction, or acts as an expensive ramp right into the San Francisco Bay.
Our available methods of construction themselves delineate what type of bridge we can make at all. Though taste, culture, and discourse certainly influence the architecture we make — ‘the discourse of architecture’ being an instance of a different sense in which something would be referred to as ‘the Rhetoric of architecture’ — our methods, modes, and circumstances of building have the greater impact on what gets built — which themselves would also be considered ‘the Rhetoric of architecture’ in the senses we’ve already gone over. The history of architecture is in large part the history of the advancement of construction methods, which is why we don’t see suspension bridges in ancient Greece or find buildings as tall as skyscrapers littered around the remains of feudal Japan.
Food preparation has followed a similar path, things like refrigeration, globalization, and industrial food systems allowing us access to affordable meals on a daily basis that even emperors of old would be jealous of. We could not make the dishes we now eat without any of that, as fine dining doesn’t simply ‘occur’ in the wild like the flora and fauna they’re made of. Information technology too has been spurred on by our ability to construct increasingly finer things, the iPhone being relatively recent not for lack of a market, but the parts required to make it formerly taking up the space of a decent sized room that’s a hair bigger than the average hand or pocket. Tools like these have also changed the character of our communication through forms such as writing, Nietzsche known to comment on how what he wrote by hand was very different than what flowed out of him and into the typewriter2. Even methodologies of approaching specific things, like lean manufacturing and lean programming, produce things that bear the mark of how they were made3.
Preparation Is Productive
No matter how we slice, dice, weld, or cut where we divide what is considered ‘preparation’ and what is considered ‘execution’, preparation is productive of what it produces, not ornamental to it. This is an obvious thing when our methods are as tangible as what they produce, but it’s natural to neglect that when preparing anything Rhetorical because we don’t always have that luxury. We say we’re preparing for something in most Rhetorical endeavors rather than preparing something because we believe there’s a temporal disconnect between the conscious preparatory work we do and its results, but it’s more accurate to remove any mediating words between our preparation and our performances because as a process, preparation is afoot right through our moment of delivery — productive of how we perform, regardless of our intentions.
Whether our performances affect our audience in real time or not, all Rhetorical things are constructed in principally the same way, primarily producing their results based on how they were made and prepared. They’re also more difficult to construct at times than the examples we’ve gone over because they aren’t as immediately tangible as things we’re used to considering as ‘man-made’. Whenever we ‘do’ Rhetorical things, we bring together our knowledge, experience, and skills in ways ranging from novel to derivative that engage with whatever circumstances we’re in — real or perceived, together or alone. What that all ‘looks like’ when done well isn’t as obvious as hammering a nail or making a building plan, however, in service to cultivating our Rhetorical results.
The productive nature of preparation is more readily apparent in mediums that result in Rhetorical products, like writing, but holds equally if not more true for relatively ephemeral Rhetorical performances, such as the many forms speaking can take. In the case of the latter, what they’re constructed of is almost entirely put together in preparation in three main ways:
- In the explicit sense of formulating what we intend to do and accomplish in order to prepare in the sense we’re used to considering as preparation.
- In the implicit sense that the sum total of what occurs before we perform produces our performance.
- And in the broader sense of “I’ve spent my whole life preparing for this” that would appear to be at home as an inspirational line from a film, but has a lot of truth to it in anything we say, think, or do when it comes to Rhetoric because we’re drawing on all of our mental and physical resources when we engage in Rhetorical activities.
Unfortunately, there isn’t one ‘best’ way to prepare and construct all things Rhetorical, though we do approach all of them in similar ways. There isn’t any singular ‘worst’ way to prepare, either. There are common elements of preparation that make us worse off than we were before for having done them, however, and ones that at the very least are good uses of our preparation time compared to readily available alternatives.
What Does Good Preparation Look Like?
There is a Rhetoric to preparation, in that there are effective and efficient ways to prepare that cultivate the most effective results on ourselves and others. We’ll examine medium and situation specific considerations as we go, but good preparation will tend to ‘look’ similar regardless of what we’re doing in a broader sense, but different in particular applications of it. At best, it also doesn’t look like we’d expect, which is part of the reason so many of us appear to be naturally poor at it. That’s partly because what we do when we prepare well centers on the perspective we take towards ourselves, preparation, and how that practically translates into the way we live and conduct ourselves alongside that. It’s also partly because there’s an apparent contradiction in the way we act in Rhetorical engagements when we are well prepared, which as we’ll come to, isn’t really a contradiction at all, but the point of them4.
At its core, when we’re well prepared, we look like ourselves, only at our best, having looked deeply in the mirror to know who we are, who we’re with, where we’re at, and where we’d like to go together.
There’s no one best way to prepare for any and all things, Rhetorical or otherwise. Considering how divergent the various mediums are that we employ to practice Rhetoric, it would be strange and simplistic to believe there were. There is one best approach to preparation, however, that will always result in the best products and performances we’re capable of producing.
The best preparation is always self-centered, but by no means rude.
It begins by being as clear as we can about everything and everyone involved in a performance, particularly regarding ourselves. Preparation is productive, which in Rhetorical things occurs by cultivating the context to affect one another in any way we’d like5. We need to have a good grasp of who we are and who all we’re trying to affect, however, if we’re to figure out how we can best go about doing that. Our own temperament, personality, disposition, knowledge, and skillset are among the things we’ll always have to work with in anything we do, our preparatory efforts needing to be tailored to best fit that if they’re to be productive of anything we’d like.
We all respond differently to different methods, incentives, and ways of working. We all also have different strengths, weaknesses, and quirks, our best bet usually being to lean so heavily into our strengths that our weaknesses never have a chance to show up, and to make productive use of our quirks to affect ourselves into delivering better performances when we’d like. Finding and developing those things is a crucial component to any Rhetorical training, as they aren’t as obvious as how tall, fast, or strong we are, but are every bit as impactful to our ability to perform as our physical attributes are in sports. Being able to size-up everyone involved in an engagement — now and in the future — is also vital for being able to effectively engage with them. We develop our faculties for doing that, however, by being able to size-up ourselves because our ability to perceive and differentiate the nature of others involved in Rhetorical situations is an outward application of our ability to perceive and differentiate our own attributes in these same pursuits.
If we can efficiently and effectively affect ourselves to any end we’d like, we’ll have a much easier time attempting to do so with others. It isn’t typically intuitive, however, or we’d all be born doing it and have no need to learn how. But it is learned, and we can’t develop that capacity by any other means than Rhetorically engaging with ourselves. That’s the nature of self-mastery, which is why it’s so hard — most of us default to going about it in the wrong way and using the wrong means, much like other Rhetorical pursuits such as preparation.
We need come to know ourselves very deeply to prepare effectively, as what we’re preparing is above all ourselves. That involves deep reflection, honesty, engaging in dialog with others about ourselves, assessing our past experiences, turning those into insights, and applying the fruits of all that effort consistently in how we prepare for anything we do. No one method is going to work equally well for all people, however, making the results of that look as similar and different as we all are from each other.
No matter how well we know and can work with ourselves, however, preparing the same way for all things is also a sure way to fail. Each medium, audience, or engagement will have its own best practices for preparation, despite we ourselves and human nature being what all of them have in common. Knowing who we are and where we are at are the best vantage points for discerning that, but we still need to intimately know and be able to apply the Rhetoric of what we’re doing if we’re to do it well. The Rhetoric of preparation exists on a ‘meta’ level of other Rhetorics, but still requires us to be able to know and apply the Rhetoric of particular mediums. Knowing the Rhetoric of preparation will help us in everything we Rhetorically do, but it doesn’t give us super human abilities in things we know little about and have never attempted — though it can and will start us off so far along in them at times that people will assume we’re seasoned veterans in whatever Rhetorical things we attempt.
Preparing for specific types of Rhetorical engagements takes experience, practice, study, guidance, and mastery of the mediums we use and the skills involved, as well as deeply immersing ourselves in the situations we find ourselves in. We do well to know everything we can about a topic, person, company, and the inner workings of all that and more before we open our mouths because what comes out of ignorance sounds startlingly different than what was spawned by expertise. We need to care very deeply about something to the precise extent it’s productive, which tends to lead us to acquire all the rest, including acquiring needed mentors and habits along the way.
We also need to take a broader, strategic, and productive view of preparation and the role Rhetoric plays in it — which viewing it as we’ve outlined so far helps to facilitate. We use that to make cost-benefit considerations on how much to prepare and in what way, if at all. Ideally, we will prepare as little as possible for maximum results — any excess efforts we leverage being better spent on staying in practice with Rhetoric or on other Rhetorical affairs, rather than on any one engagement with a particular audience through specific products or performances.
If all that sounds like it takes a lot of time and effort, that’s because it can, but where we place that time and effort with enough knowledge and skill in Rhetoric can be a lot less than we were putting in prior to knowing better, all while giving us an exponentially greater return on our investment. Contrary to what many of us belief about ourselves, most of us aren’t lazy or cheap. Some of us are to be sure, but if we find ourselves here reading about Rhetoric, we likely don’t run into them very often compared to everyone else we encounter. We don’t want to spend the least effort in some abstract, principled way, as that wouldn’t make any sense. If that’s really what we wanted, we likely wouldn’t try at anything at all, as nothing’s a bargain if we don’t need it, and if we’re not willing to expend any effort to get what we’re after, then we likely don’t need to be after it. What we want is to get the best deal, here being the best ratio of return to results in our Rhetorical efforts — extemporaneous excellence being as good as it gets4. Developing ourselves to that degree provides the best ratio of return and results in our Rhetorical affairs. At our best, we’ll often find we spend little time at all preparing for anything having to do with Rhetoric because we live perpetually in practice of it in much the same way an athlete spends little time worrying about particular competitions because they live and breathe preparation for their sport as part of their life and livelihood. When we’re in practice, we only spend extra time and effort when it’s needed, which if the rest of our time is being well spent, isn’t very often.
A great deal of self-awareness of who we are and where we’re at in our Rhetorical abilities is needed to both plant and pick the fruits of our efforts when they’re at their ripest. Unfortunately, we won’t have the perspective to see either of those things if we don’t develop a minimal measure of Rhetorical knowledge and skill to be able to perceive them. Plenty of us know so little about Rhetoric — by that or any other name — that we assume that great speakers and writers are either born, or somehow forged from flashcards, outlines, caffeine, and post-it notes. That’s assuming we aren’t so dense that we can’t tell the difference between good and bad Rhetoric, however. Most of us know so little about Rhetoric that we’re entirely either unaware of what all we don’t know like a foolish dunce6, or implicitly know enough about it that — lacking the knowledge, skills, and fundamental vocabulary to articulate and think about Rhetoric — we’re unable to begin developing our Rhetoric. We can’t begin to learn Rhetoric if we don’t begin to practice Rhetoric, which where all preparation worthy of the term starts.
In addition to being where it begins, the height of preparation is practice7, of the sort that leads us to be able to handle whatever we need to, whenever it arises, in whatever way we’re able, and to whatever ends we’re after. Extemporaneous excellence is a learned skill, not an inborn trait, built from taking up Rhetoric in the same way we take up a sport.
Footnotes, References, and Citations
This part is intended to be among the footnotes on Nietzsche, but until I figure out how to get it to appear there, here it is.
Sometime in 1882, Friedrich Nietzsche bought a typewriter—a Malling-Hansen Writing Ball, to be precise. His vision was failing, and keeping his eyes focused on a page had become exhausting and painful, often bringing on crushing headaches. He had been forced to curtail his writing, and he feared that he would soon have to give it up. The typewriter rescued him, at least for a time. Once he had mastered touch-typing, he was able to write with his eyes closed, using only the tips of his fingers. Words could once again flow from his mind to the page.
But the machine had a subtler effect on his work. One of Nietzsche’s friends, a composer, noticed a change in the style of his writing. His already terse prose had become even tighter, more telegraphic. “Perhaps you will through this instrument even take to a new idiom,” the friend wrote in a letter, noting that, in his own work, his “‘thoughts’ in music and language often depend on the quality of pen and paper.”
“You are right,” Nietzsche replied, “our writing equipment takes part in the forming of our thoughts.” Under the sway of the machine, writes the German media scholar Friedrich A. Kittler, Nietzsche’s prose “changed from arguments to aphorisms, from thoughts to puns, from rhetoric to telegram style.” — Carr, Nicholas. Is Google Making Us Stupid? — What the Internet is doing to our brains. (July/August 2008 Issue of the Atlantic).
Carr also briefly delves further into this account and the concept here in one of his books for those interested in it and related things, but the gist is found in the above excerpt: Carr, Nicholas. The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains. (2010 Book).
- The 4 Secrets of Becoming Great at Public Speaking | Good Rhetor – All About Rhetoric ↩
- A relevant account of Nietzsche’s relationship with his typewriter, its impact on his writing, and his thoughts on how our tools influence our thinking by acting as mediums of it can be found here: ↩
- Method as I tend to define it is the ultimate limiting factor of how our products and performances turn out, and is one of the quinessential Rhetorical things we do. Preparation is our primary and often sole method of producing a great number of Rhetorical things, acting as our method of making them in that way. A brief summary of some of what I’ve written elsewhere on this to further define and go into it will be available in my next book, as well as part of the What is Rhetoric? Series adapted from it, which I’ll link once it’s up. ↩
- Preparation 11 — The Best Preparation Is Staying in Practice — Extemporaneous Excellence | Good Rhetor – All About Rhetoric ↩ ↩
- Preparation 4 — Preparation Defined — That Will Cultivate a Context| Good Rhetor – All About Rhetoric (I’ve written about this elsewhere and will have it up in some form when I can, but this is a relevant summary of the concept that’s useful for now for those interested). ↩
- In sum the Dunning–Kruger Effect as it’s come to be called is the dichotomy of our tending to be either so ignorant and unskilled in some area that we are unaware of what all we’re ignorant of and assume our own superiority despite how bad we really are, or we are so knowledgeable and skilled in something that we’re overcome with the finitude of our knowledge and ability and underestimate ourselves while over estimating others. Developed from: Kruger, Justin; Dunning, David. “Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments“. (1999 Article in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 77 (6): 1121–34) ↩
- Preparation 11 — The Best Preparation Is Staying in Practice | Good Rhetor – All About Rhetoric ↩
He enjoys learning, making, and teaching things. Though he works internationally, he's based in the Bay Area, trained and operating by the University of California, Berkeley. He's considered a leading authority on the topic of Rhetoric.
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